Like most of you did or probably will, I did struggle to find a topic to discuss or to feel like I had any information to expertly share with you all, but stumbled upon this as I was trying to figure out what to do for dinner this week. In this post, I will be going through a bit of a road map about how cooking, baking, and recipe-sharing has become both easier and harder than passing down top-secret family recipes.
Almost obviously, food was a status symbol throughout history. Access to multiple spices, ingredients, and simply having enough food was a way for a family to establish themselves between the haves and have nots (check out this Atlantic article for more). Cookbooks became “available” in the 15th and 16th centuries, but this relied on families having both the money to pay for them and the ability to read them. During this time, there were books labeled in specific ways (stately, noble, high class cooking) and that were priced 20 times more expensive than some of the “For everyone” cookbooks that were still inaccessible. These would often use ingredients not available to everyone.
People were becoming more creative with food out of necessity. The Great Depression and then the rations during World War II forced people to do more with less. Recipes and cookbooks were created and passed around to help people repurpose leftovers to make meals last longer. There are some WILD recipes created during this time that a man on TikTok has dedicated himself to attempting, highly recommend checking out the tomato soup cake post.
Things dramatically improved post World War II and homes were now able to keep things colder for longer with the mass production of the refrigerator, which made them available for 80 % of homes by the 1950’s. Cookbooks were mass produced as well, but now cooking shows also became available. Long before the Food Network, Julia Child brought French cuisine to the TV screen of viewers in the US in 1963. This ~digital transformation~ helped to democratize what was seen as high quality cooking and make it available to everyone who had TVs in their home. The Food Network would begin in 1993, discussing not specifically recipes, but centering the narrative around chefs and their businesses. Julia Child began this kind of cooking show, helping to make French cuisine in particular but cooking in general more accessible to the watchers, especially being on the WGBH channel, a public TV station.
Much like the rest of the world, things became highly disrupted by the internet and the sudden increase in information available to everyone with a computer. Recipes became widely available, but in simple formats without much flair. Like most websites at the time, it was not uncommon for there to be few pictures and questionable font choices. It was not a monetized enterprise the way it currently exists.
With the advent of social media, cookies (for the website, but we love a good pun), and sponsored posts from influencers, recipes are consumed in a different way now. For example, this afternoon, I did not know what I wanted for dinner. Instead of consulting my family recipe book, my Chrissy Teigan cookbook, or just winging it, I used a search engine to google “what to make for dinner mushroom.” I found the recipe below and added the rest of the ingredients to my virtual shopping list I share with my husband. We both made dinner together and he is currently doing the dishes. This experience is much different, more accessible, and highly personalized.
Food bloggers have significant competition, as most anyone can post any kind of website content without any kind of legitimate credential as long as their content is well-branded and has an audience. There is an expectation that if you are to build a brand, there is a multi-faceted web-presence with a website, social media presence, and high quality photography and well-written content in addition to the recipe. This is much different than the back of the napkin recipe your family may have created and shared with you.
If you want inspiration for dinner tonight, you can google a food-related phrase, watch several shows on a streaming platform of your choice, follow your favorite Instagrammer, blogger, TikToker, or YouTuber, or call your family and ask what they are doing for dinner. The mass amount of information related to cooking has democratized quality cooking in a way that allows anyone to explore any cuisine, assuming they have access to the ingredients.
Even further, if you have little interest in scouting the internet for a recipe and grocery shopping for the right things, meal delivery services exist to create quality meals and eliminate this entire process. Essentially, depending on your preference, you get to choose how much of the process you want to do yourself without needing to hire a personal chef. This also has allowed a more equal division of labor in the kitchen, recognizing that two-person households (spouses, partners, roommates, etc.) can split up dinner responsibilities according to what works best for both parties.
While the division of resources has been present throughout history and certainly pervades our lives now, access to a variety of cultural cooking has enhanced the meal experience for countless amateur chefs and allows everyone to be able to cook at their own pace and skill level for their families.
Further clicking: Best Selling Cookbook from the year you were born
Also important, I ended up doing a Marsala Sauce (this recipe with extra onion, shallots, and the umami seasoning from Trader Joe’s) along with mushroom ravioli and brussel sprouts in case anyone else is looking for dinner inspiration.